Posts tagged ‘advertising’


I don’t do paid blog posts here (so don’t ask)

11.12.2017

I know we all get these emails from time to time, but they still annoy me.
   If ‘Peter’ had visited this blog, he would know that every single post since 2006 has been my own, unpaid, unsponsored thoughts. Why would I change that now?
   You may say it’s a fair question, and maybe in his case it is, if I had to be generous. Peter mightn’t have had the time to analyse every entry I’ve made.
   But it’s not just this one. Medinge gets these requests, too: again, it’s not something you would have asked if you had actually visited the site, when everything on the blog has been members-only, and when the philosophy of the organization would probably tell you that we couldn’t be bought or endorse any products.
   The most ridiculous would be Beyond Branding’s blog getting these requests—when that blog hasn’t been updated since 2006. We were still receiving requests in 2017.
   I know, some of these people found us through blog directories, and there was probably an email address tied to each entry.
   However, if they haven’t the courtesy to check us out, can I really trust that they would even pay up? And if Peter were legit, these unsolicited approaches have been coloured by the ridiculous ones we receive for a blog that hasn’t been updated in 11 (and almost 12) years.

Incidentally, our commercial publications do carry paid content, and advertorials (‘native advertising’), by law, are clearly marked as such.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing | 2 Comments »


YouTube under fire for child exploitation videos—with ‘three unpaid volunteers’ monitoring reports

28.11.2017

The Murdoch Press has rightly kept its pressure up on Google, with a cover story in The Times, ‘Adverts fund paedophile habits’ on November 24 (the online version, behind a paywall, is here).
   Say what you will about its proprietor, but Murdochs have been happy to go after the misdeeds of Google: the earlier one I’ve cited on this blog was when Google was found to have hacked Iphones in 2012.
   This time, YouTube is under fire for videos of children that were attracting comments from pædophiles, forcing the company to switch off comments, but it’s already lost advertising from Mars, Cadbury, Adidas, Deutsche Bank, Diageo, HP, and Lidl.
   Buzzfeed has discovered even more disturbing content involving children, including from accounts that have earned YouTube’s verified symbol. Be prepared if you choose to click through: even the descriptions of the images are deeply unsettling.
   Buzzfeed noted:

On Tuesday afternoon, BuzzFeed News contacted YouTube regarding a number of verified accounts — each with millions of subscribers — with hundreds of disturbing videos showing children in distress. As of Wednesday morning, all the videos provided by BuzzFeed News, as well as the accounts, were suspended for violating YouTube’s rules …
   Many of the offending channels were even verified by YouTube — a process that the company says was done automatically as recently as 2016 …
   Before YouTube removed them, these live-action child exploitation videos were rampant and easy to find. What’s more, they were allegedly on YouTube’s radar: Matan Uziel — a producer and activist who leads Real Women, Real Stories (a platform for women to recount personal stories of trauma, including rape, sexual assault, and sex trafficking) and who provided BuzzFeed News with more than 20 examples of such videos — told BuzzFeed News that he tried multiple times to bring the videos to YouTube’s attention and that no substantive action was taken.
   On September 22, Uziel sent an email to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and three other Google employees (as well as FBI agents) expressing his concern about “tens of thousands of videos available on YouTube that we know are crafted to serve as eye candy for perverted, creepy adults, online predators to indulge in their child fantasies.” According to the email, which was reviewed by BuzzFeed News, Uziel included multiple screenshots of disturbing videos. Uziel also told BuzzFeed News he addressed the concerns about the videos early this fall in a Google Hangout with two Google communications staffers from the United Kingdom, and that Google expressed desire to address the situation. A YouTube spokesperson said that the company has no record of the September 22nd email but told BuzzFeed News that Uziel did email on September 13th with screenshots of offending videos. The company says it removed every video escalated by Uziel.

   I’m believe Uziel more, and I even believe that the 20 examples he provided to Buzzfeed were among the ones he escalated to Google. Unless he discovered them since, why would he show them to Buzzfeed while claiming that Google had been ineffective? Both The Times and Buzzfeed claim some of these abusive videos have each netted millions of views—and substantial sums for their creators.
   And people wonder why we don’t continue to operate a video channel there, instead opting for Vimeo (for my personal account) and Dailymotion (for Lucire).
   I don’t claim either is immune from this, but they seem to want to deal with harmful content more readily, principally because they’re not subject to the culture at Google and at Facebook, which appears to be: do nothing till you get into trouble publicly.
   LaQuisha St Redfern shared this link with me from The New York Times from a former Facebook employee, Sandy Parakilos, which can be summarized:

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, mentioned in an October interview with Axios that one of the ways the company uncovered Russian propaganda ads was by identifying that they had been purchased in rubles. Given how easy this was, it seems clear the discovery could have come much sooner than it did — a year after the election. But apparently Facebook took the same approach to this investigation as the one I observed during my tenure: react only when the press or regulators make something an issue, and avoid any changes that would hurt the business of collecting and selling data.

   This behaviour is completely in line with my own experience with the two firms. Google, long-time readers may recall, libelled our websites for a week in 2013 by claiming they had malware. It was alleged that there were only two people overseeing the malware warnings, something which has since been disproved by a colleague of mine who was in Google’s employ at the time.
   However, The Times alleges that YouTube monitoring of reported videos is in the hands of ‘just three unpaid volunteers’, hence they remained online.
   I have some sympathy for YouTube given the volume of video that’s uploaded every second, making the site impossible to police by humans.
   However, given how much the company earns off people—their advertising arm rakes in tens of thousands of millions a year—three unpaid volunteers is grossly negligent. If certain states’ attorneys-general had more balls, like the EU does, this could be something to investigate.
   There’s also not much excuse that a company with Google’s resources didn’t put more people on the job to create algorithms to get rid of this content.
   Once rid, Google needs to ensure that owners who are caught up with false positives have a real appeals’ process—not the dismal, ineffective one they had in place for Blogger in the late 2000s that, again, was only remedied on a case-by-case basis after a Reuter journalist had his blog removed. That can be done with human employees who can take an impartial look at things—not ones who are brainwashed into thinking that Google’s bots can never err, which is a viewpoint that many of Google’s forum volunteers possess, and are consequently blinded.
   Facebook’s inability to shut down fake accounts—I have alerted them to an ‘epidemic’ in 2014—has been dealt with elsewhere, and now it’s biting them in the wake of President Trump’s election.
   These businesses, which pay little tax, are clearly abusing their privilege. Since the mid-2000s, Google hasn’t been what I would consider a responsible corporate citizen, and I don’t think Facebook has ever been.

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Posted in business, internet, media, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


Saving the internet from itself—Sir Tim Berners-Lee sees the same dangers

18.11.2017


Above: The Intercept is well respected, yet Google cozying up to corporate media meant its traffic has suffered, according to Alternet.

There’s a select group of countries where media outlets are losing traffic, all because Facebook is experimenting with moving all news items out of the news feed and on to a separate page.
   Facebook knows that personal sharing is down 25 and 29 per cent year-on-year for the last two years, and wants to encourage people to stay by highlighting the personal updates. (It probably helped back in the day when everything you entered into Facebook had to begin with your name, followed by ‘is’.) In Slovakia, Serbia, Sri Lanka and three other countries, media have reported a 60 to 80 per cent fall in user engagement via Facebook, leading to a drop in traffic.
   We’ve never been big on Facebook as a commercial tool for our publications, and if this is the way of the future, then it’s just as well that our traffic hasn’t been reliant on them.
   A 60–80 per cent drop in engagement is nothing: earlier this decade, we saw a 90 per cent drop in reach with Lucire’s Facebook page. One day we were doing thousands, the next day we were doing hundreds. It never got back up to that level unless we had something go viral (which, thankfully, happens often enough for us to keep posting).
   Facebook purposely broke the algorithm for pages because page owners would then be forced to pay for shares, and as Facebook is full of fake accounts, many of whom go liking pages, then the more you pay, the less real engagement your page is going to get.
   We felt that if a company could be this dishonest, it really wasn’t worth putting money into it.
   It’s a dangerous platform for any publisher to depend on, and I’m feeling like we made the right decision.
   Also, we had a Facebook group for Lucire long before Facebook pages were invented, and as any of you know, when the latter emerged there was hardly any difference between the two. We felt it highly disloyal to ask our group members to decamp to a page, so we didn’t. Eventually we ceased updating the group.
   We all know that sites like Facebook have propagated “fake news”, including fictional news items designed as click-bait conceived by people who have no interest in, say, the outcome of the US presidential election. Macedonian teenagers created headlines to dupe Trump supporters, with one claiming that his friend can earn thousands per month from them when they click through to his website, full of Google Doubleclick ads.
   The Guardian reports that paid items haven’t suffered the drop, which tells me that if you’re in the fake-news business, you could do quite well from Facebook in certain places. In fact, we know in 2016 they were paying Facebook for ads.
   Conversely, if you are credible media, then maybe you really shouldn’t be seen on that platform if you want to protect your brand.
   Facebook says it has no plans to roll out the “split feed” globally, but then Facebook says a lot of things, while it does the exact opposite.
   Both Facebook and Google claim they are shutting down these accounts, but I know from first-hand experience that Facebook is lousy at identifying fakes, even when they have been reported by people like me and Holly Jahangiri. Each of us can probably find you a dozen fakes in about two minutes, fakes that we’ve reported to Facebook and which they have done nothing about. I’ve already said that in one night in 2014, I found 277 fake accounts—and that wasn’t an outlier. I suspect Facebook has similar problems identifying fake-news fan pages.
   Everyday people are losing out: independent media are suffering—except for the golden opportunity Facebook has presented the fake-news business.

This leads me on to Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s latest, where he is no longer as optimistic about his invention, the World Wide Web.
   ‘I’m still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence,’ he told The Guardian.
   The newspaper notes, ‘The spread of misinformation and propaganda online has exploded partly because of the way the advertising systems of large digital platforms such as Google or Facebook have been designed to hold people’s attention.’
   Sir Tim continued, ‘The system is failing. The way ad revenue works with clickbait is not fulfilling the goal of helping humanity promote truth and democracy. So I am concerned.’
   He’s also concerned with the US government’s moves to roll back ’net neutrality, which means big companies will have a greater say online and independent, diverse voices won’t. The ISPs will throttle websites that they don’t like, and we know this is going to favour the big players: AT&T already blocked Skype on the Iphone so it could make more money from phone calls.
   We’ve seen Google’s ad code manipulated first-hand where malware was served, leading to Google making false accusations against us and hurting our publications’ traffic for over a year afterwards.
   The ad industry is finding ways to combat this problem, but with Google the biggest player in this space, can we trust them?
   We also know that Google has been siding with corporate media for years—and to heck with the independent media who may have either broken the news or created something far more in-depth. I’ve seen this first-hand, where something like Stuff is favoured over us. That wasn’t the case at Google, say, six or seven years ago: if you have merit, they’ll send the traffic your way.
   Again, this doesn’t benefit everyday people if low-quality sites—even one-person blogs—have been permitted into Google News.
   Google claims it is fighting “fake news”, but it seems like it’s an excuse to shut down more independent media in favour of the corporates.

We spotted this a long time ago, but it’s finally hit Alternet, which some of my friends read. If your politics aren’t in line with theirs, then you might think this was a good thing. ‘Good on Google to shut down the fake news,’ you might say. However, it’s just as likely to shut down a site that does support your politics, for exactly the same reasons.
   I’m not going to make a judgement about Alternet’s validity here, but I will quote Don Hazen, Alternet’s executive editor: ‘We were getting slammed by Google’s new algorithm intended to fight “fake news.” We were losing millions of monthly visitors, and so was much of the progressive news media. Lost readership goes directly to the bottom line.’
   Millions. Now, we aren’t in the million-per-month club ourselves, but you’d think that if you were netting yourselves that many readers, you must have some credibility.
   Hazen notes that The Nation, Media Matters, The Intercept, and Salon—all respected media names—have been caught.
   Finally, someone at a much bigger website than the ones we run has written, ‘The more we dig, the more we learn about Google’s cozy relationship with corporate media and traditional forms of journalism. It appears that Google has pushed popular, high-traffic progressive websites to the margins and embraced corporate media, a move that seriously questions its fairness. Some speculate Google is trying to protect itself from critics of fake news at the expense of the valid independent outlets.’
   It’s not news, since we’ve had this happen to us for years, but it shows that Google is expanding its programme more and more, and some big names are being dragged down. I may feel vindicated on not relying on Facebook, but the fact is Google is a gatekeeper for our publication, and it’s in our interests to see it serve news fairly. Right now, it doesn’t.
   The danger is we are going to have an internet where corporate and fake-news agenda, both driven by profit, prevail.
   And that’s a big, big reason for us, as netizens, to be finding solutions to step away from large, Silicon Valley websites that yield far too much power. We might also support those government agencies who are investigating them and their use of our private information. And we should support those websites that are mapping news or offer an alternative search engine.
   As to social networking, we’ve long passed peak Facebook, and one friend suggests that since everything democratizes, maybe social networking sites will, too? In line with Doc Searls’s thoughts, we might be the ones who have a say on how our private information is to be used.
   There are opportunities out there for ethical players whose brands need a real nudge from us when they’re ready for prime-time. Medinge Group has been saying this since the turn of the century: that consumers will want to frequent businesses that have ethical principles, in part to reflect their own values. Millennials, we think, will particularly demand this. An advertising system that’s better than Google’s, a search engine that deals with news in a meritorious fashion, and social networking that’s better than Facebook’s, all driven by merit and quality, would be a massive draw for me right now—and they could even save the internet from itself.

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Posted in branding, culture, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Google collects more enemies—we haven’t been critical enough of it

05.09.2017

My complaints about Google over the years—and the battles I’ve had with them between 2009 and 2014—are a matter of record on this blog. It appears that Google has been making enemies who are much more important than me, and in this blog post I don’t mean the European Union, who found that the big G had been abusing its monopoly powers by giving its own properties priority placement in its own search results. (The EU, incidentally, had the balls to fine Google €2,420 million, or 2·5 per cent of Google’s revenues, unlike various US states’ attorneys-general a few years ago, who hit them with a $17 million bill, or four hours’ income for Google.)
   It’s Jon von Tetzchner, the co-founder and CEO of Vivaldi, who blogged on Monday how Google hasn’t been able to ‘resist the misuse of power.’
   Von Tetzchner was formerly at Opera, so he has had a lot of time in the tech world. Opera has been around longer than Google, and it was the first browser to incorporate Google search.
   As you’ve read over the years, I’ve reported on Google’s privacy breaches, its false accusations of malware on our sites, its favouring big sites over little ones in News, and (second-hand) the hacking of Iphones to gather user data. Google tax-dodging, meanwhile, has been reported elsewhere.
   It appears Google suspended Vivaldi’s Adwords campaigns without warning, and the timing is very suspicious.
   Right after von Tetzchner’s thoughts on Google’s data-gathering were published in Wired, all of Vivaldi’s Google Adwords campaigns were suspended, and Google’s explanations were vague, unreasonable and contradictory.
   Recently there were also revelations that Google had pressured a think-tank to fire someone critical of the company, according to The New York Times. Barry Lynn, ousted from the New America Foundation for praising the EU’s fine, accused the Foundation for placing Google’s money (it donates millions) ahead of its own integrity. Google denies the charge. He’s since set up Citizens Against Monopoly.
   It’s taken over half a decade for certain quarters to wake up to some of the things I’ve been warning people about. Not that long ago, the press was still praising Google Plus as a Facebook-killer, something I noted from the beginning would be a bad idea. It seems the EU’s courage in fining Google has been the turning point in forcing some to open their eyes. Until then, people were all too willing to drink the Google Kool-Aid.
   And we should be aware of what powerful companies like Google are doing.
   Two decades ago, my colleague Wally Olins wrote Trading Identities: Why Countries and Companies Are Taking on Each Other’s Roles. There, he noted that corporations were adopting behaviours of nations and vice versa. Companies needed to get more involved in social responsibility as they became more powerful. We are in an era where there are powerful companies that exert massive influences over our lives, yet they are so dominant that they don’t really care whether they are seen as a caring player or not. Google clearly doesn’t in its pettiness over allegedly targeting Vivaldi, and Facebook doesn’t as it gathers data and falsely accuses its own users of having malware on their machines.
   On September 1, my colleague Euan Semple wrote, ‘As tools and services provided by companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon become key parts of the infrastructure of our lives they, and their respective Chief Executives, exert increasing influence on society.
   ‘How we see ourselves individually and collectively is shaped by their products. Our ability to do things is in our hands but their control. How we educate ourselves and understand the world is steered by them. How we stay healthy, get from one place to another, and even feed and clothe ourselves is each day more dependent on them.
   ‘We used to rely on our governments to ensure the provision of these critical aspects of our lives. Our governments are out of their depth and floundering.
   ‘Are we transitioning from the nation state to some other way of maintaining and supporting our societies? How do we feel about this? Is it inevitable? Could we stop it even if we wanted?’
   The last paragraph takes us beyond the scope of this blog post, but we should be as critical of these companies as we are of our (and others’) governments, and, the European Commission excepting, I don’t think we’re taking their actions quite seriously enough.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, media, social responsibility, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


All I really know is who I won’t vote for

29.08.2017

One thing I love about New Zealand is that we’re not mired in an election cycle years before the event. We’re three weeks or so out from our General Election, and only now am I feeling things are heating up.
   It’s not that we haven’t had drama. Weeks ago, Metiria Turei was co-leader of the Greens, Andrew Little led Labour, and Peter Dunne was aiming for another term as MP for Ōhāriu and leader of United Future. None of these hold true in late August.
   What is unusual is that I’m undecided because of all these late changes, and we’re still learning about policies in some cases—I remember getting my manifesto out six months before an election, and the uncertainty here isn’t helping. The billboards have done nothing to sway me one way or another. Policy-wise, I have some things in common with each of the parties, excepting ACT, though probably like most New Zealanders, I haven’t had a chance to visit all the parties’ websites yet, though I will in the next few weeks. Various websites helping people decide based on stated policy actually give very different answers: On the Fence suggests I am both a National and Labour supporter (I often kid and say the parties are the same, just plus or minus 10 per cent); yet taken earlier, it said United Future and Māori Party were the top two with the most in common with me. Vote Compass gives Green and Mana. The websites, then, are no help, because they base their answers on selected issues, and apparently I’m both right- and left-wing.
   Twitter is comparatively quiet in 2017, giving fewer clues about how candidates are thinking, and I hardly look at my Facebook (for obvious reasons). I have spied some of the TVCs, where Labour has done an excellent job, and (last I looked) National has uploaded only one to its YouTube channel, so I can’t even see the first one that has been on telly. A lack of coordination between online and traditional media worries me.
   It’s an odd mix, none of whom really stand out.
   The incumbent National Party currently has an unimaginative TVC that is an adaptation of the rowers of 2014, and it only serves to highlight that, after three terms, they are out of touch. Say what you will about the former PM, the Rt Hon John Key, he had a pretty keen sense of the electorate. Not so this National Party, where the Deputy PM gave this quote:

   I see my friend Andy Boreham suggests ‘Minster’ is a misspelling of ‘Monster’, but such a point makes a mockery of New Zealanders’ belief (even if it does not hold true with growing inequality) that being Deputy PM is no greater a duty or more important a job than being a union leader. Some might have voted for National before on the premise that John Key is rich (I’m sure that worked for Trump, too), but, as we know, they aren’t going to return the favour of a vote by giving up a share of their wealth with you. PM Bill English, whom I first met while he was Treasurer in 1999, is an intelligent man with a sense of humour that doesn’t come across on television, and that won’t hold him in good stead this time out. Pity: there are many National MPs I like (e.g. Paul Foster-Bell, Simon O’Connor). The Nats’ 2002 campaign with Bill as leader was a disaster: I saw no outdoor advertising when I came back from Europe. This time there’s a lot of outdoor, but none of it says anything to me, other than National has spent some money licensing new fonts. I should note that no one has won an election for a long, long time in this country using a typeface that has a single-storey lowercase a.
   Labour has staged a turnaround like no other, one where leader Jacinda Ardern is neck in neck with the PM on one preferred prime minister poll. I had dismissed Labour earlier on as a party with unhealable divisions, but the speed at which Ardern and her party have pulled together an overhauled campaign is to be commended. I’ve never voted Labour before, and I’m still not convinced that the divisions are gone, but I will say this of Ardern, just as I once did of myself when I stood for office in my 30s: if we screw it up, we have a lot, lot longer to live with the consequences. She will take this seriously. She has had more parliamentary experience at this point than Key when he first got to the PM’s office, and former PM Helen Clark has endorsed her. Rose-coloured glasses about the Clark administration will help, even if I was critical of certain aspects of it back then. Post-Little, Labour could get more Chinese New Zealanders voting for them, too, after an earlier screw-up with a real estate agent’s list that was handled horribly. Chinese NZers have long memories, and some labelled the gaffe racist. Ardern is a departure from Little and the message here is ‘Don’t hinder Jacinda.’
   Peter Dunne’s decision not to stand in Ōhāriu means that the United Future party is at an end. It’s a shame, because I have always got on with Peter, and he has been generous to me with his time, more so than my own MP. Similarly, the Greens’ James Shaw I count as a friend of over seven years, but the Turei scandal has left the party hurt, even if its policies remain on track. The signage has been appallingly dull, bereft of imagination, even if James’s performance in a recent Nation debate clearly marks him out as the intellectual, aware of global trends. If we want a globalist (or at least a globally aware MP) in Parliament, then we could do far worse than ensuring the Greens get in above the 5 per cent threshold. Strategically, a party that has its origins in the environment (even if that message hasn’t been hammered home of late) makes sense, as I believe we need to protect ours desperately. Vote Compass says I’ve most in common with the Greens this time out, and Toby Morris makes a good point with his latest cartoon.
   The Opportunities Party has some good points—I’m in favour of closing tax loopholes for foreign companies operating on our shores—and its leader, Gareth Morgan, who normally comes across as lacking the common touch, did well in the debate, at least when he had something to say. I’ve followed Morgan on Twitter for some time, long before this political foray, and often liked what he had to say. However, at either website TOP and I don’t have that much in common.
   The Māori Party, as my supposed second choice based on On the Fence (at least the first time out a few weeks ago), could have received my vote after Peter decided not to stand, but Marama Fox’s performance in the above debate didn’t impress me, even if she impressed all the talking heads in the studio. It goes to show how different things are in person. Fox has passion and fire, but didn’t have the figures to back up her policies—and I know from having been on the podium with my opponents that you should have them, and your researchers should have at least come up with an estimate. I don’t know where Mana sits; I had a far better idea when Kim Dotcom was involved.
   New Zealand First, helmed by the Rt Hon Winston Peters, the most establishment of all the politicians who successfully carries on an antiestablishment message, has signage up with Peters’ face and the words ‘Had enough?’ On that note I find accord with New Zealand First’s message. I have had enough of Winston Peters, and I answer their advertisement in the affirmative. But I shan’t be voting for them.

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Posted in marketing, New Zealand, politics | 2 Comments »


How I answered Facebook Business’s survey

29.08.2017

Facebook sent me a survey as one of our businesses has bought advertising with them. I’ve detailed my responses below, with a few notes. I’ve included Instagram in this, since their own advertising platform allows us to reach that.

What is the most important thing that Facebook can do to improve your advertising experience?
Some years ago, Facebook intentionally wrecked the sharing, so post sharing dropped 90 per cent. We all know why: the profit motive. Allowing a slight return to the higher levels would be useful because we know those shares were genuine. I’d be happy to supplement those with a buy; right now I dislike having to fork out so much. You made plenty off us, it’s time to give regular customers a bit of a break.

What do you most value about advertising on Facebook relative to advertising with other digital platforms?
Nothing much, actually. You claim to have all these stats on people but I know from my own ad preferences that you are wrong on a lot of things (probably 40 per cent) about me. Even though I have opted out, you continue to collect preferences. How do I know I am advertising to people who want it? Also, I cannot change my location on Instagram (apparently you guys don’t know where New York is) through any platform, so all the ads there are irrelevant to me. I see complete disadvantages about your platforms. We only buy with you in the hope that some of the advertising is targeted but we know full well that we’ll be annoying part of the group you reach.

   I tried feeding in New York only after Auckland (where I had travelled to earlier this month) wasn’t recognized by the app and I kept getting Wellington ads. It’s probably not that big a surprise since some years ago, Facebook had no idea where Paris (I specifically mean the French one, as I’m sure most of you know) was. And Google didn’t know where the White House was last decade, so American companies not knowing the location of American cities and landmarks shouldn’t be a surprise, either. Remember, Facebook once thought all of its hundreds of millions of users lived on the US west coast in 2011 and the site would stop working for people outside their own time zone on the 1st of each month. They really are quite insular, and it’s a surprise they even cared about getting the opinion of a customer in New Zealand, since I doubt they know where we are.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, technology, USA | No Comments »


Give nothing to racism

18.06.2017

What an honour it was to appear as one of the first batch of people in the Human Rights’ Commission’s Give Nothing to Racism campaign. Taika Waititi, New Zealander of the Year (and a Lucire feature interviewee from way back) introduced the campaign with a hilarious video, and it was an honour to be considered alongside my old classmate Karl Urban, and other famous people such as Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Neill, Neil Finn, Lucy Lawless, and Hollie Smith. Somewhere along the line the Commission decided it would get some non-celebs like me.
   The idea is that racism propagates through each of us. Laughing along with a joke. Letting casual racism in social media comments carry on. Excusing racist behaviour. Or simply accepting it as “the way it is”. There’s no place for it in 2017, certainly not in this country, and for those who seek to indulge in it (I’m looking at certain people in politics and the media in particular), you’re simply covering up the fact you’ve very little of substance to offer. I #givenothingtoracism.

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Posted in culture, media, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Online publishing: how the players we dealt with changed in 2016

12.01.2017


Above: Brave Bison’s predecessor, Rightster, left much to be desired in how it dealt with publishers, while investment commentators had concerns, too.

Twenty-sixteen had some strange developments on the publishing front.
   First, we noticed Alexa rankings for a lot of sites changed. Facebook itself went from second to third, where it has stayed. Our own sites dropped as well, across the board, even though our own stats showed that traffic was pretty much where it was. In Autocade’s case, it was rising quickly.
   We checked, and Alexa had announced that it had increased its panel again in 2016. There was an announcement about this in 2014, but things improved even more greatly during the last Gregorian calendar year, specifically in April. (April 2016, it seems, was a huge month of change: read on.) This means Alexa began sampling more people to get a more accurate picture. Given that Facebook fell as well as us, then we drew the conclusion that the new panel must include audiences in China and other non-Anglophone places. It makes sense: Alexa is a global service and should take global data points. Never mind that we’ve suffered as a result, we actually agree with this approach. And we’re taking steps in 2017 to look at capturing extra traffic with our content.
   Alexa, when we approached them, said it could not comment about the origins of the panellists. Again, fair enough. We’ve made an educated guess and will work accordingly.
   Secondly, there were two ad networks whose advertising disappeared off our sites. The first, Gorilla Nation, started dropping off long before 2016. In 2015, we asked why and were asked to fill out some form relating to Google ads. Anyone who’s followed this blog will know why that was unpalatable to us—and we want to make sure our readers don’t fall victim to Google’s snooping, either. I’m not saying that Google ads don’t appear at all—it’s the largest advertising network in the world, and its tentacles are everywhere—but if I can avoid opening our properties up to Google willingly, then I’ll do so.
   It’s a shame because we’ve worked exceedingly well with Gorilla Nation and found them very professional.
   We have, sadly, entered an era where—as found by my friend and colleague Bill Shepherd—online advertising is controlled by a duopoly. In The New York Times, April 18, 2016 (italics added): ‘Advertisers adjusted spending accordingly. In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook, said Brian Nowak, a Morgan Stanley analyst.’ I don’t think this is fair, as they’re not the ones generating the content. Google has also managed to game services like Adblock Plus: they’ve paid for their ads not to be blocked. (Better has more information on why certain ad blockers are ineffective.) It’s not difficult to see why native advertising has increased, and this is generally more favourable to the publisher. In 2017, it’s time to build up the advertising side again: two years ago we already saw quarters where online overtook print in terms of ad revenue.
   Burst Media’s ads also disappeared, and we had been working with them since 1998. Now called Rhythm One, they responded, ‘We recently migrated to a new platform and your account was flagged by an automated process as part of that. All that being said—we can absolutely get you live again.’ That was April. I added one of their team to Skype, as requested, but we never connected—the helpful staff member wasn’t around when I called in. Again, a bit of a shame. As I wrote this blog post, I sent another message just to see if we could deal with the matter via email rather than real-time on Skype.
   At least this wasn’t a unilateral cessation of a business arrangement, which Rightster sprung on us without notice in April. Rightster’s Christos Constantinou wrote, ‘It is with regret that we inform you that from yesterday we ceased providing video content services to your account.’ This wasn’t the first change Rightster sprung on us—its code had changed in the past, leaving big gaps in our online layouts—and soon after, everyone there clammed up, despite an initial email from another Rightster staffer that feigned surprise at what had happened. Mr Constantinou never picked up phone calls made since that point, and we couldn’t get an answer out of them. No breaches of their terms and conditions were ever made by us.
   We were only interested in a small handful of their video sources anyway, all of whom exist on other platforms, so one would have thought that it was to Rightster’s advantage to continue working with a well respected brand (Lucire). A bit of digging discovered that the firm was not in good shape: a pre-tax loss in the first half of 2015 of £11·5 million, with shares trading in October of that year at 10·50p per share, down from its float price of 60p. That year, it was forecast by Share Prophets that things would only get worse for the firm, and they were proved right within months. Not long after ceasing to work with us (and presumably others), Rightster became Brave Bison Group, restructured, and became a ‘social video broadcaster’, but it was still burning cash (to the tune of £1·3 million, according to the same website in July 2016).
   Gorilla Nation and Burst’s slots have largely been replaced by other networks as well as ads secured in-house, while Rightster effectively did us a favour, though its opaqueness didn’t help. In fact, when they didn’t answer questions, it was only natural to surf online to investigate what was going on. Initially, there was some negative stuff about Burst, though my concerns were put to rest when they emailed me back. With Rightster, there was no such solace: finding all the news about the firm being a lemon confirmed to me that we were actually very lucky to have them farewell us.
   We revived an old player that we used, through Springboard, itself linked to Gorilla Nation, so we’re still serving advertising from them, just in a different form. Video content has not vanished from the Lucire sites, for those who are interested in it.
   How a company behaves can be linked to how well it ultimately performs, and what it’s worth. Given our treatment by Rightster, it wasn’t that surprising to learn that something was rotten in Denmark (or London). Maybe that first staff member was genuinely surprised, with employees not being told about their company running out of money. And unless things have truly changed within, it could well continue to function dysfunctionally, which will give those AIM columnists more ammunition.

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Facebook’s ad targeting: evidence now filed with the Better Business Bureau

04.12.2016


As of today, I’ve sent off my evidence to the US Better Business Bureau so they can continue their investigation of Facebook. The DAA was too gutless to investigate but the BBB, by contrast, gives a damn.
   Let me note here that I have nothing against Facebook making a buck. I just ask that it do so honestly, that it does what it says.
   Facebook claims that you can opt out of targeted advertising, and that you can edit your preferences for that targeting, the same was what Google did in 2011. It was revealed then that Google lied, and the Network Advertising Initiative was able to follow up my findings and assured me it would work with them to sort their procedures out.
   If you opt out of targeting, Facebook continues to gather information on you. The BBB noted to me in April that if I could show that Facebook was targeting based on personal information I did not provide (e.g. if you fed in a fake location as your home in Facebook and it serves you ads based on your real location), then it could be a violation of their principles. This is pretty easy to prove: just go to any ad in your feed, click on the arrow in the right-hand corner, and click ‘Why was I shown this ad?’ In most cases, your actual location will have something to do with it.
   Secondly, there is a potential link between the preferences Facebook has stored on you—the ones they say they would not use—and the ads you are shown. Facebook claims you can edit those preferences but as I showed last week, this is not true. Facebook will, in fact, repopulate all deleted preferences (and even add to them), but thanks to the company itself providing me with the smoking gun, I was able to connect those shown preferences with ads displayed between March and December 2016. It casts doubt on whether Facebook is actually targeting me based on freely given information, especially since, for example, I am being served ads for Oh Baby! when I don’t have kids. (Oh Baby!, meanwhile, is one of the preferences in its settings.)
   My Google investigation took three months; this took between eight and nine.
   We’ll see if the BBB will take quite as long—they might, because they say they tend to be inundated with complaints about Facebook, but find that most cases do not violate their principles. But I’ve shown them not only examples along the lines of what they suggested, but a few that go even further.

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RTL orders Blitzkrieg on Alarm für Cobra 11 fan community prior to the show’s 20th anniversary

10.03.2016

With the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of the German TV show Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei, a fan group I run—the largest unofficial community on Facebook for the series—has been the subject of a Blitzkrieg by RTL. Trailers, which made up the majority of the uploaded videos, are indeed copyrighted material, but have resided happily there since 2008. But in their determination to have every video cleansed from Facebook, individual members’ copyrighted material, as well as videos that do not even belong to RTL, have been the subject of their claims.
   As someone who is usually on the complainant’s side in DMCA cases, I have a lot of sympathy for their position—but I’ve never gone to a website to lay claim to material that isn’t ours. You would think that a company as well resourced as RTL would be able to tell the difference, if a far smaller firm like ours can, but it appears there are keyboard warriors even in the largest TV networks. A reply, therefore, is needed, and it’s going to be a nice weekend sans Facebook, where I have been barred for three days without their usual counterclaim procedure operating. Luckily, I had set up a back-door account to administer pages and groups, after Facebook’s anti-malware malware incident, which is practically all I do there these days anyway.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Today we note that all videos uploaded to the largest Facebook group about the TV series Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei (https://www.facebook.com/groups/autobahnpolizei/) have been the subject of complaints by you, causing them all to be removed.
   We acknowledge that some of these videos contain content from Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland and Action Concept. They have resided there since 2008 without a single complaint, and the overwhelming majority (over 90 per cent) are trailers that you have permitted not only on this group, but all fan groups.
   Our group is non-profit and promotional in nature. Contractors to and employees of RTL and Action-Concept have happily been members for years, so it is clearly known to your organization.
   You have also permitted fan edits to your material on YouTube for years, where derivative works have been created and reside.
   Derivative works include subtitled, reworked Bulgarian translations to your trailers by Mr Hristian Martinov that feature new graphics, fan edits by Herr Thorsten Markus Grützmacher featuring the history of the series, and fan videos by Herr Stefan Wilke made in 2002 and 2004. Given RTL’s own stance on these elsewhere, principally on YouTube, there is an appalling double standard that you have applied to this Facebook group.
   We acknowledge that on a strict legal interpretation, some of these can be subject to your copyright claims and, had we been approached privately, we would have removed them. However, we are deeply concerned over content that Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland falsely and deceptively laid claim to, and is no concern of yours.
   You have stated to Facebook that these are videos that you or your organization created. In the cases detailed below, this is not true.
   We have two reporting numbers provided to us by Facebook, 1687808734841713 and 235243696819825, although numerous others relating to this group apply.
   Among those are videos that you have falsely and deceptively laid claim to include those shot by individual members on set on visits to Action Concept, videos shot privately by Herr Grützmacher while he was contracted to Action Concept, advertisements made by Kia Motors Deutschland GmbH which feature Alarm für Cobra 11 characters, news articles covering Alarm für Cobra 11 that are not owned by RTL but by their respective news networks, and an advertisement for Daimler AG that has no connection whatsoever to Alarm für Cobra 11, Action-Concept, or RTL.
   Please be advised that Facebook operates on US copyright law, which the above items do not fall foul of as they relate to RTL; even if they do, they are outside the scope of copyrighted material that you have any authority to file complaints about. The notion of German moral rights in copyright do not apply in the United States in this respect.
   Your actions have caused accounts to be disabled and while this may be warranted in the cases that concern RTL material, it is not warranted in cases where you have made false claims to Facebook. Your statements are not only inaccurate in these cases, they are also defamatory in nature and we consider them libellous.
   We are prepared to vigorously defend our position.
   Nevertheless, we are reasonable, and we propose a fair solution. As there is no way to compile every reporting number over eight years of material that has vanished in the space of 24 hours, we request that all the material you have reported on this group to be reinstated in full. Once that is done, the group’s moderators work alongside you to remove, individually, only the content that belongs to you. Reinstatement should occur within a week of this email, while removal of all RTL trailers, promotional material, and direct clips from the show—the last of which are indisputably RTL copyrighted material—will be done over the following week.
   Facebook notes that you are under no obligation to respond. Please be advised that this message will be openly published, and will also be sent to you as hard copy, with other parties cced.

Yours faithfully,

Jack Yan, LL B, BCA (Hons.), MCA

ccs for Action Concept and Facebook, under separate cover

   What an innovative way to generate goodwill for a TV series in the days before the network kicks off its 20th anniversary tributes (on March 12).

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